By Stefanus Ian
As the referee tosses the ball upwards, two players in the centre of the court lunge upwards, hoping to tip the ball to their team members. It sounds like a basketball match, but it isn’t.
This is wheelchair rugby — also infamously known as ‘murderball’. During a match, players crash into each other frequently while racing down the court and fighting for ball possession.
Off the court, all ‘murderous’ intentions are set aside. Team captain Richard Kuppusamy told Yahoo Singapore the players and volunteers who gather at Toa Payoh sports hall every Friday for training are “like a family”.
“There’s a pretty strong camaraderie between the players on the team,” said the 40-year-old architect, who has spina bifida, a congenital condition where the person’s spine fails to form normally.
“Wheelchair rugby challenges your mind – you’re playing strategically, as part of a team and that camaraderie that you get, the activity of being within a team and playing with a group of people is really very special,” said Kuppusamy.
Another player, Edgar Cheong said he gets a “high” from the physical aspect of the game.
“There is a lot of physical contact involved, that gives you a lot of adrenaline rush and suspense,” said the 23-year-old undergraduate.
“Because every time you hear that wheelchair knocking against each other it gives you a high feeling,” he said with a wide smile.
“It’s complex because of the strategies involved in winning the game but it is simple enough that it is easy to pick up,” said Cheong.
Where the name ‘murderball’ came from
Wheelchair rugby, which combines elements of basketball, rugby and ice hockey, is played between two teams of four players each. It is a full contact sport for both male and female athletes who have impairments to their limbs.
Played in an indoor court with the same dimensions as a basketball court, each player in possession of the ball must pass or bounce the ball within 10 seconds after being in control. The player then aims to get the ball past the goal line at the end of the court within 40 seconds of gaining possession. After 40 seconds, there will be a change in possession.
The nickname ‘murderball’ came about because of the clashes between wheelchairs on court, which sometimes result in blown wheelchair tyres. This forces a player off the court to replace his tyre, giving the other team a numerical advantage during the game. An American documentary of the same name in 2005 that featured wheelchair rugby players also popularised the name.
Cheong said he has been actively trying to invite more of his friends to try the sport in the hopes of growing a bigger pool of players for the sport. His dream is for wheelchair rugby to be included in the ASEAN Para Games one day.
Challenging regional wheelchair rugby teams
Founded only in June last year, Singapore’s wheelchair rugby team exceeded everyone’s expectations at The Association For International Sport For All (TAFISA) World Sport for All Games in Jakarta last October.
The team made it past the group stage with a 33-19 victory over India and into the bronze medal match playing with just four players and no substitutes. The team eventually finished fourth, finishing above India. Indonesia took first place, followed by Thailand and Malaysia.
“We went into that competition with six weeks of training from scratch – we’ve only been playing for six weeks,” said Kuppusamy, who started playing the sport because he wanted something more dynamic than going to the gym.
“Against teams that have been playing for anywhere between two years and four years… we came away without being last, so that’s pretty good,” he added.
Kuppusamy is now hoping to grow their squad as they prepare for their next competition, the Bali 4s International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament in July.
“We may not assume that rugby is a sport that disabled people can play so the really amazing thing is that we have gotten such a diverse group of people to turn up and play a game and really play it pretty competently,” said Kuppusamy.
“Now we are really able to invite people to come and spar with us.”